Issa Bagayogo

Ramata Diakite
both titles: Cobalt(

cd cover "Electric" Issa Bagayogo is on the forefront of a wave of young Malian musicians who are taking techno music and grafting it onto Malian roots. Singers such as Ramata Diakite, Batoma Diallo, and Mamou Sidibe are fellow travelers under the tutelage of French composer, programmer, and producer Yves Wernert, but Diakite is, to date, the only other artist to release a CD internationally.

Despite having a number of artists in the forefront of the international music scene, Mali has never had a significant number of musicians "crossing over" wholeheartedly to Western pop. Salif Keita's latest album relies with mixed success on rock idioms (in recent concerts he has used familiar histrionic choreography of the sort pioneered by vainglorious 70s arena rockers), and Mamadou Doumbia has made some very interesting recordings in Japan with a mixed band. But Malian artists, for instance, were never a part of Bill Laswell's funky Celluloid stable, which included Senegalese brothers Toure Kunda, Gambian Foday Musa Suso, and Cameroonian Manu Dibango. Mali has never had an eccentric front man like Nigeria's Fela, proto-punkers like Cameroon's Tetes Brulees, rappers like Senegal's Positive Black Soul or Tanzania's Kwanzaa Unit, or even (until recently) a reggae man like the Ivory Coast's Alpha Blondy or Nigeria's Majek Fashek. So the appearance of someone like "Electric Issa" is a minor though inevitable revelation.

Sya's opening track is a bass-heavy medium tempo number with a pulsing beat and an electronic soul, driving and energetic until the last third of its seven minutes. At this point the repetition dulls the edge; this is the case with a number of the tunes on Sya. Many of the sounds and lines will be familiar to Western listeners; despite the comparisons to techno, Bagayogo's music borrows effects rather than plunging into nether regions of cognition penetrated by modern technonauts. The instrumentation is traditional: kamalen n'goni (3 string hunter's lute), acoustic guitar, djembe, and calabash cover most of the acoustic sounds. But Bagayogo uses good amounts of sampling and vocal distortions to create effects which have been heard only selectively in Malian music; the effect is revolutionary while being quite tasteful. The question is, how will this album sound in ten years? Will it be as embarrassingly 'modern' as some of the aforementioned Celluloid work of the 70s and 80s? I don't think so, but hopefully Bagayogo will move the sound along in his much-awaited follow ups.

Meanwhile, other artists such as Diakite will no doubt follow his lead. Really, the only 'techno' tune that Diakite recorded for this album is the title track, which cues up last. But the remainder of the album is modernized, mainly by the arrangements of Wernert and Diakite's vocal technique. While she is from the Wassoulou region famed for its female vocal tradition, Diakite sings with a more open-throated tone than many Malian singers, male or female. Her clear, powerful voice is chilling, especially on a song like "Dasse." Backed only by acoustic guitar, the earthy effect of her voice is accentuated by the use of many bars of spoken lines. Really, the song strays from tradition like the more electronic tunes of Bagayogo, but strangely, it sounds fuller than they do. The album overall is quite strong, with some very nice kamalen n'goni work (especially on "Mogobalou") and excellent singing throughout. - Craig Tower

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